The Obama administration says it believes that the militants responsible for the recent terror attack at a BP gas facility in Algeria were working with "elements of Al Qaeda," as they attempt to solidify the bigger link between Algeria, Mali, and the worldwide fight against extremists.
CNN's Barbara Starr reports that "senior U.S. officials" say Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb carried out the offensive "in tandem" with Moktar Belmoktar, the so-called "Mr. Marlboro" who claimed credit for the assault. Belmoktar was reportedly a senior figure in AQIM before breaking away from the group to go it alone, but other sources say he was still very much connected to the jihadist movement. (For more background on Belmoktar's past and his motives, check out this primer by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of The Globe and Mail.)
American intelligence agencies seem to be thinking that Belmoktar and the group may have "reunited" for this assault, but Starr's sources didn't offer a reason as to why — or how exactly they were coordinating. The French military presence in Mali was offered up as a condition of freeing the hostages, but this attack is also being described as "highly sophisticated" and well coordinated, which suggests it was in the works long before France troops arrived in Mali on January 11, four days before the gas-plant attack began. AQIM has been the leading rebel group in Mali, but the Algerian attackers reportedly came out of Libya, on the other side of the map.